The long-awaited mega project of the Construction of the Centenary Church of Gunadala Lourdhumatha Shrine took a first strideon 2nd February, 2020 with the laying of the foundation stone by His Excellency, Most Rev. Thelagathoti Joseph Raja Rao S.M.M., Bishop of Vijayawada at 5.00 p.m. in ITI grounds, Gunadala. This ceremony took place during the Novena days of Gunadalamatha Festival, 2020; the third day of the Novena day, on the Feast of the Presentation of Our Lord in the Temple and alsothe fourth anniversary of the episcopal ordination of Bishop Joseph Raja S.M.M. as Bishop of Vijayawada.
The priests, the major superiors, the religious heads of various institutions and the laity gathered in good number for this ceremony. Mr. M. Srinivas Rao, Project Director, DRDA, Mr. A. Murali, Executive Director, S.C. Corporation of Krishna Dt. were also present. The parishioners of Gunadala welcomed the Bishop, the Curia, the construction committee and the priests to ITI grounds from Gunadalamatha Parish Church.
In his introductory words, Fr. Eleti William Jaya Raju, the Rector and Parish Priest of Gunadalamatha Shrine, said that the proposed Church will be the memorial Church on the great occasion of the completion of 100 years of the installation of Holy Statue of Our Lady at Grotto. He also conveyed and highlighted the hand of God in inspiring Bishop and the Diocesan Curia, the day of the laying of the foundation stone for the Centenary Church. He also quoted from the Scriptures (2 Chronicles 3:2), “King Solomon began to build in the second month of the fourth year of his reign.” This Biblical reference has a current historical coincidence: that this is the fourth year of the episcopacy of Bishop Raja Rao and the corresponding second day of the second month of the year.
After the introduction, His Excellency presided over the ceremony of the laying of the foundation stone for the new Church. The priests, religious superiors and the laity participated in this traditional ceremony. Then His Excellency unveiled the commemorative inscription of Gunadala Lourdhu Matha Shrine Centenary Church.
Msgr. Mesapam Gabriel, the Vicar General, on this occasion, hailed the gradual development of the Shrine in its devotion first by the Catholics, then by the nonCatholics and now by also the non-Christians. It has become the blessing to all the people irrespective of caste and creed. He expressed the view that the upcoming Church will be a great blessing for the progress of the Shrine in the future.
Fr. Valle Joji Babu, the Procurator and Chancellor, speaking on this occasion called the selfless missionary work of the PIME missionariesas the strong foundation of the diocese and theGunadalamatha Shrine founded by the PIME missionaries as the live foundation of the diocese which has been a great source of faith in the local church.He said that the new Shrine church while being a fitting tribute to the great missionaries, will hugely serve tostrengthen the faith of the local church.
On this occasion, Msgr. Muvvala Prasad quoted the sacred words spoken by Simeon when he took Messiah into his hands: “…this child will be a light of revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” (Luke 2:32). Every church is a light of revelation to the Gentiles and at the same time it is a light that brings glory to the believer. Mary, our Mother had given this light to the world. And now, the big Church that we are building in the name of the Mother will be the same light. Therefore, he exhorted, that it is the bounden duty of all the local faithful to proclaim the greatness of the Shrine.
His Excellency, Most Rev. Thelagathoti Joseph Raja Rao, in his message said that we have inherited this devotion to our Lady and this holy shrine because of the hard work of our pioneers. Now it is our turn to carry on the legacy and hand it over to the coming generations. He also gave a glimpse of the upcoming Centenary Memorial Church. He held that we are going to build the Blessing not a simple building. He also said that he alone cannot do it but we all are building it. He encouraged everybody to join in this great endeavor. After his talk, the whole congregation paid homage to the PIME priests, missionaries from Kerala, men and women religious and all who helped in the development of the Shrine. Mr. Tantepudi Ashok, the parishioner proposed the vote of thanks. The whole ceremony was concluded with the blessing of the Bishop.Mr. Nagadasu Jaya Raju anchored the whole ceremony.
Afterwards, the whole congregation proceeded to the hill in Eucharistic procession, praying Rosary, to the Grotto of our Mother Mary. At the grotto, Bishop offered the thanksgiving Mass on the occasion of the fourth anniversary of his Episcopal Consecration.